Two men died mysteriously in separate but almost identical incidents nine years apart on Crab Island ( Ilha dos Caranguejos ) in northern Brazil. In addition, two men were burned in the first incident and one in the second. Neither case has been solved but UFOs might have been involved.
The island is twenty-five miles long and seven wide. It is located in São Marcos Bay in the state of Maranhão. It is swampy and is inhabited only by crabs and mosquitoes. The only reason anyone goes there is get wood to sell in São Luís, the state capital, fifteen miles north of the island.
first Crab Island case occurred in 1977 during a four-month-long UFO flap
in a wide area around the small city of Pinheiro, about seventy kilometers
west of the island. I spent four weeks in the São Luís-Pinheiro area investigating
it. I had never before seen a case that involved a human death and injuries.
I didn’t know it at the time but the Pinheiro flap was part of a large wave of sightings that occurred in a broad area of Brazil and lasted for at least a year and a half. The other end of the overall flap was in Colares, an island at the mouth of the Amazon River three hundred miles to the west, where sightings began about the time they ended around Pinheiro.
In the Colares region in 1977 and 1978, dozens of people were injured and at least two died. These events were more widely known because the Brazilian Air Force investigated them for four months. The results were never released to the public, but much of the information was leaked to civilian investigators, and word spread quickly.
Dozens of people were also attacked around Pinheiro in April, May, June and July of 1977. The first Crab Island incident occurred on the night of April 25 and – partly because of the numerous sightings in the area – most people, including police investigators, believed a UFO was involved.
The victim was José Souza, a healthy twenty-two-year-old who had been married just a month when he died. His brother, Firmino, thirty-nine, was burned so badly he was in a hospital for a month and his left arm was left crippled. Their cousin, Auleriano Alves, thirty-five, was severely burned on his back and buttock.
No one knows what happened, and authorities disagreed as to the cause of the death and injuries. What is known is that there were many curious aspects to the case.
HARRASSED BY FIREBALL
Police said a number of UFO sightings were reported immediately before and after the night of April 25. In addition, during the four months of the flap a number of fishermen and farmers in the Pinheiro area reported they had been burned or dazed by a ''ball of fire.”
Most said the UFO would suddenly appear without warning just above their heads at night, lighting up the area like daylight. In most cases the victims had been carrying a lamp or flashlight or had lit a cigarette in the dark.
The night José Souza died, he and the other men and a third brother, Apolinário Souza, thirty-one, were asleep aboard an old wooden fishing boat named the Maria Rosa. It was anchored in a river inside Crab Island.
None of the three who survived remembers anything that happened after they went to sleep. Yet, they woke up five hours later than they had intended to, and the two burned men were found in opposite ends of the boat from where they had gone to sleep.
José’s body had no marks or burns on him, nor were there any burns or marks of damage on the boat.
An eminent Rio de Janeiro physician put Auleriano, Firmino and Apolinário under hypnosis several times one weekend but learned nothing. He said all three had a deep mental block that prevented them from remembering what happened that night. (At left below, I am tape recording one of the two hypnosis sessions with Auleriano, who held his arms and legs up at the doctor's request without any movement for several minutes.)
“It is a very strange and complicated case,'' said Dr. Silvio Lago (below at right), then sixty-nine, a former medical professor who taught psychotherapy and medical hypnosis. He said it was the first time in forty-five years that he had not been able to break down such a block.
“This was not a voluntary mental block on the part of any of the three," he said. "It is possible that some well elaborated and very deep post-hypnotic suggestion would cause this mental block… some kind of very deep hypnosis causing them not to remember whatever it was after it happened.''
Police were baffled. Clésio Muniz, director of criminal investigation for the state, said: “This is a strange case. It was a phenomenal thing that happened. A lot of people had seen the fireball immediately before and after this happened.
“From the reports I received, the fireballs do not seem like falling stars. It goes up or down or to the left or the right, horizontally and vertically, slowly, fast, or very slow and then very, very fast. It is a strange phenomenon and I do not know what it is.''
He said the police did not keep records of UFO or fireball sightings but that it was very possible there had been a sighting the night the incident occurred.
“I know a lot of people saw it during this whole period. It is possible somebody saw the fireball that night. I have never seen one but I have been told of many people who have.”
As for the death of José Souza, Muniz said: “Some people believe he was frightened to death.”
The incident began the morning of April 25 when the four men sailed from São Luís to Crab Island to get wood to sell. That is the way Auleriano, Apolinário and José earned their living. For Firmino, though, it was his first such trip. He normally worked clearing land but a regular crewmember was sick and Firmino, needing wood to build a new house, had asked to go along.
They arrived at Crab Island early in the afternoon, sailed up a river into the interior and tied up. They spent the rest of the afternoon cutting wood and stacking it on the bank.
About six o'clock they ate supper. By then the sun had set and the boat was sitting in mud. The tide had gone out and would not come back in for about six hours.
‘‘We were planning to wake up around midnight, load the wood onto the boat and then leave about two in the morning,'' said Auleriano, leader of the crew. ‘‘As the tide comes in, the noise of the water hitting the boat and the rocking of the boat would wake us up. We had done this more than a hundred times before and we had never failed to wake up at the right time. We always woke up in plenty of time to finish our work and leave with the outgoing tide.''
That night they didn't.
JOSÉ NEVER WAKES UP
To get inside, the men would climb down through a hatch about one yard square and could either enter the cabin to the rear or crawl into the cargo space under the forward deck. The mast is in front of the hatch.
When José went to sleep, he strung his hammock near the entrance to the cabin and took his shirt off and put it over his head as he always did. He never woke up.
Auleriano hung his hammock at the back of the cabin, Apolinário went to sleep on a mat between the two hammocks, and Firmino put a mat down in the forward cargo space near the mast.
The hatch had been covered with a cloth curtain to keep mosquitoes out. Only a small louvered window behind Auleriano’s hammock allowed any fresh air in. A kerosene lamp hanging on a nail cast a dim light as they slept.
The night was hot and all four slept in the shorts they had worked in.
Something happened in the next few hours so terrible that none of the survivors can remember anything that happened. Not even the two men who were badly burned can remember when, how or where their injuries were inflicted on them.
The tide flowed in late in the evening. Water began lapping at the sides of the boat, setting it afloat and gently rocking it. This went on for several hours until the tide eventually changed directions and began flowing back out again. But no one woke up until five thirty or six the next morning.
The first to awaken was Auleriano. He was shocked to find himself in great pain and lying in several inches of water in the bottom of the boat in front of the mast. A few minutes later Firmino, who had gone to sleep near the mast, was found badly burned at the rear of the cabin beneath Auleriano’s hammock.
“I was very surprised to be in the bilge,”
said Auleriano. “I was lying in the water. I could see where I was but I couldn't
get up. I didn't have the strength.
Apolinário (right) had hurried forward when he was awakened by Auleriano's shouting. “I had to duck under José’s hammock to get to Auleriano," he said. "I asked him what he was doing lying there but he didn’t know. I stood him up but he said he couldn't stand on his legs, so I helped him get up on the deck of the boat and lay down.''
That's when Auleriano discovered he was burned on his back and left buttock. The burns were so painful that he had to take his shorts off.
FIRMINO SWOLLEN AND BURNED
All this time Apolinário could hear Firmino moaning in the back of the cabin but he was worried about Auleriano at the moment and fixed him some garlic tea. Then he went down into the cabin to see why Firmino was moaning, again ducking under José's hammock to get to Firmino.
“I thought José was still sleeping,'' Apolinário said. “I got scared when I saw Firmino. He was all swollen and burned. The skin had come off. He didn't have any skin on his burns. But it didn't smell like it had been burned.
“I went to call José to come help me get Firmino up, and that's when I found him dead. I wanted to cry but I didn't. It would have been bad if I got alarmed, so I controlled my feelings.
“His body was cold and getting hard, so I put him right in the hammock. His right leg was sticking out. It was not easy to get the leg back in.”
José was in the hammock just the way he had gone to sleep, with his shirt over his head. ‘‘He didn't have any burns on his body,'' said Apolinário. ‘‘He was perfectly normal. His face was normal, as if he was smiling at us.''
Apolinário tried to give Firmino some water with sugar in it but Firmino's teeth were clenched tight. “He wouldn't drink it and I got even more frightened,” Apolinário said. (Photo below shows Firmino with his crippled left hand and chest scars eighteen months after incident.)
The nightmare had just begun. By six o'clock the tide had gone out and the boat was once again sitting in the mud, unable to move. It wasn't until one o'clock that afternoon that the boat was afloat again and Apolinário began the difficult job of sailing the boat back to São Luis by himself.
Normally it takes four men to handle the huge sail and rudder of the Maria Rosa but Apolinário had no help. José was dead, Firmino was unconscious and Auleriano was in too much pain. It took five hours for Apolinário, a small, slender man, to take the boat to the Port of Itaqui near São Luis.
“God helped me,” said Apolinário. “I trust in God because I came to the port by myself and only God was helping me and I was completely healthy when my brother had been killed and my other brother had injuries all over his body. We would all have died without God’s help.”
HOURS AWAY FROM HELP
Itaqui is a small deep-water port for ocean-going vessels at the end of a highway six miles west of São Luis. It is virtually deserted at night and it took Apolinário three hours to walk into São Luis and come back with help for Firmino.
Auleriano stayed with José's body until one in the morning, when the police arrived. Then he went to a hospital himself to be treated.
Firmino remembers nothing from the time he went to sleep on the boat until he woke up in the hospital six days later.
‘‘Only Jesus Christ really knows what happened,'' said Firmino, who then lived in a village south of Itaúna in the tropical forest on the west side of the bay.
He was in the hospital for a month (below). His most serious injuries were second-degree burns on his upper left arm, the left side of his rib cage and on the front and left side of his forehead. The burns damaged nerves, and the fingers of his left hand are now curled and useless.
José’s body had rapidly decomposed in the equatorial heat and he was buried the day after Apolinário got the boat back. No autopsy was performed and a medical examiner listed the cause of death as a cerebral hemorrhage. The death certificate said family members reported José had a history of hypertension. But that was not true, according to those closest to him. His mother, Maria, as well as Firmino and Apolinário and their oldest brother, Pedrinho, all said José never had any health problems.
One police investigator thought lightning killed José and burned Firmino and Auleriano. He theorized that a bolt of lightning struck the sand or mudflats near the boat, bounced back up and then flew horizontally into the cabin, striking three of the four men.
If that did happen, it would have had to pass through the curtain covering the hatch, but Auleriano said the curtain was not burned.
Other police disagreed with the lightning theory, as did two meteorologists at the nearby São Luís airport. However, two doctors who examined Firmino's burns for the medical examiner’s office also thought lightning had caused the burns.
‘HE SAID HE SAW A FIRE’
One was Dr. Carneiro Belfort, a professor of legal medicine at one of the universities in São Luis and then director of the medical examiner’s office.
“I wanted to see him (Firmino) because they mentioned something about UFOs causing that and I wanted to see for myself,'' Dr. Belfort told me, stressing that he himself did not believe UFOs were real. “The burns were characteristic of lightning but I cannot affirm that. If it wasn’t lightning, I don't know what it could have been.
“The man told me he saw a fire and then passed out. He said he saw a light. Maybe when the lightning struck him, he saw it and then passed out.''
If Firmino had seen a ball of fire and then had passed out, that could mean he had seen a UFO, a fireball being a common description of a UFO. But Firmino, who was delirious for six days, doesn't remember seeing any light or passing out or having talked with Dr. Belfort.
Dr. José Oliveira went to the hospital with Dr. Belfort. “When we examined Firmino he was drowsy and semi-conscious," Dr. Oliveira said. ‘‘He didn't have any strength in his arms and his pupils were small. He could have died from his injuries. In my opinion, it was lightning. I can't say that definitely but the effects were the same.''
Dr. Oliveira acknowledged that if lightning had been the cause “the boat should have had some marks of damage or burns and the one who died from lightning should have been burned.''
Neither he nor Dr. Belfort saw either the boat or José’s body. Asked about Auleriano's burn on the buttock, Dr. Oliveira said: “It is likely that if he had been struck by lightning his clothing would have been burned as well.''
But Auleriano said his clothing wasn’t burned. ‘‘The left side of my butt was burned but my shorts didn't have any burns.''
The government weather station at nearby the São Luís airport reported no unusual weather that night. Officials showed me the hour-by-hour weather records for the area for the period from five in the afternoon on April 25 to six the next morning. They show no lightning, thunder or violent storms. A light rain fell at eleven and midnight. Otherwise the night was clear.
Sergeant Antenor Silva, an Air Force meteorologist, also discounted the idea that lightning had struck the boat.
“It is highly unlikely that lightning would kill the one man without burning him. If José was killed by lightning, it would have had to burn him. It is just not possible for a lightning bolt to burn the two men and kill the other without leaving a mark on him.''
Reinaldo da Silva, one of the investigators, said: “When I examined the boat we found no signs of any fire. The burns were all on the people’s skins but there weren’t any marks of fire on any part of the boat or the hammock, just on the bodies. And the burns they had all over their bodies weren't the regular ones from flames or any kind of fire.
“I examined the dead man and there were no marks or burns on him. There were no indications there had been any fight among the men, and there were no signs of violence in the boat or outside it. And I can affirm they were not even drinking alcohol. I saw no signs of marijuana. We found no alcohol.''
I personally know there were no signs of fire on the Maria Rosa because I inspected it myself. Had I known what I would have to do to reach it, I might not have done it.
I had been searching for the boat all around São Luís for nearly three weeks, but discovered where it was only when Ana Teresa Britto, one of my interpreters, and I went to Firmino’s home in the forest west of the bay. I had interviewed Firmino there a week or so earlier and went back again to ask him to come to São Luís for the hypnosis sessions.
When we found him the second time, he agreed to go to São Luís with us but wanted to take a bath first. While waiting, we learned from his wife Maria that theMaria Rosa was tied up in a small stream just a few kilometers away, and she offered to take us to it.
We drove to that area and parked. Then I learned
I would have to wade through a knee-deep murky swamp for fifty to seventy
yards – barefoot. Otherwise I’d lose my shoes. There was no other way to reach
Fortunately there were no piranhas in the
swamp and nothing untoward happened. We reached the boat and I searched it
inside and out (below). I didn’t find any signs of fire or damage.
No one seemed to doubt the truthfulness of the three men. “I believe they are telling the truth,'' said investigator Silva.
Dr. Lago, who put them under hypnosis, said: “The men were very truthful. They were not lying or making anything up. They are very simple people, very serious people and I believe they are telling the truth."
Virtually the same thing happened nine years later to another crew in the second Crab Island incident. This time, one man died and one was burned.
I learned about this during a visit to São Luís in 1986 and know only the first names of the men, Juvéncio, Veríssimo, Anselmo and Lázaro. All of my information came from Juvéncio, whom I interviewed again in 1992.
MEN FALL UNCONCIOUS
On April 28, 1986, the four men sailed to Crab Island to get wood. They worked for two days cutting several hundred poles and stacking them on the bank near the boat.
On the third day they finished working as darkness fell about six o'clock. Juvéncio, then twenty-two, began cooking supper. Veríssimo, twenty-one, wasn't feeling well and asked Juvéncio for garlic to rub on his arms to make him feel better.
But before he could help Veríssimo, Juvéncio suddenly became dizzy and fell to the deck unconscious. In quick succession, Anselmo and Lázaro, both in their forties, also passed out.
No one knows what happened to Veríssimo. Lázaro regained consciousness at noon the next day, eighteen hours later. Veríssimo was lying on the deck dead. There were no marks on him, but a little blood had trickled from his mouth.
Anselmo awoke two hours later and Juvéncio revived about five o'clock, almost twenty-four hours after he passed out. The right side of his head was burned and swollen.
Anselmo and Lázaro tried to load the wood onto the boat but soon gave up. They began sailing back to São Luis, but it was difficult because all three were sick and nauseated.
I learned about the incident five months later when I happened to go to São Luís on a swing through northern Brazil. Monica Carneiro and Ana Teresa Britto, two of the principal interpreters during my investigation of the first case, told me about it and helped me find Juvéncio. (Ana is on left in this photo and Monica is on the right.)
Juvéncio told us that none of the three survivors knew what happened that night, except that all three got dizzy and passed out. They were certain food poisoning was not to blame. They hadn't yet eaten and were feeling well until they became dizzy.
Authorities also discounted the possibility that any kind of poisonous gas seeping from the swampy land could have been the cause. Juvéncio said no one had smelled any unusual odors.
Port authorities found no reason to doubt the men. No autopsy was performed on Veríssimo either and his death certificate simply listed the cause as "undetermined."
The UFO connection in this second incident is also tenuous. None of the men saw anything unusual but something frightening did happen shortly before they began falling unconscious.
They heard a loud crashing noise in the brush somewhere near the boat. They couldn't see anything in the darkness and didn’t know what caused the noise. As far as they knew, no one else was on the island.
When we interviewed Juvéncio in his home, some neighbors had gathered around to listen. One man said he'd had a UFO encounter in similar boat not far from Crab Island one night in 1983.
His boat was anchored in a stream on the western side of the bay when a big bright object came down and hovered overhead, then shined a light down on the boat. The man and his companions dived overboard and hid in the bushes until the UFO went away. He said people in several other boats in the area also had UFO encounters that year.
The two Crab Island cases are strikingly similar, except that none of the men in the first incident felt dizzy at any time and they had gone to sleep as they normally did.
It's very possible that UFOs were not involved in either case, since none of the men remembered anything unusual and there were no other witnesses. As I said in my book UFO DANGER ZONE, “If UFOs weren't to blame, then some other phenomenon just as bizarre was responsible. Either way, it is all part of a strange mystery that injures people and leaves some dead.”
(Note: One of the men in the first incident is named Auleriano Alves. His first name in Brazil is more often spelled Aureliano, but he said he spelled his name Auleriano. For a guide to pronouncing unfamiliar Brazilian names, click here.)